The police has cracked down on a ring of drug dealers who smuggled drugs to inmates of the Vinarice prison in central Bohemia, uncovering four secret laboratories and confiscating a vast amount of soft and hard drugs. 53 people have been charged with illegal production and sale of drugs, among them former and current employees of the prison, including the former prison doctor and nurse. The police launched operation Gaston a year ago on suspicion of widespread corruption within the prison house. A number of former employees provided evidence and recently inmates themselves framed a warden who sold them mobile phones for large sums of money.
The leaders of the three parties in government are to meet for late-night consultations on Monday in an effort to reach agreement on a joint candidate for the third round of presidential elections, due to take place on February 28th. After a series of futile attempts to find a widely acceptable candidate, the Social Democrats have now suggested the nomination of former education minister and university professor Jan Sokol. The two smaller parties of the governing coalition -the Christian Democrats and Freedom Union - have indicated that Mr. Sokol would be acceptable for them, but a great deal depends on the Social Democrats themselves, who are divided over Jan Sokol's nomination. If the third round of presidential elections fails to produce a successor to the former president Vaclav Havel, Parliament will work on a Constitutional amendment which would enable direct presidential elections.
The Czech unemployment rate reached an all time high of 10.2 percent in January. The labour ministry said over 500,000 Czechs, half of them women, were looking for jobs last month. The highest unemployment rate remains in the former heavy industry and coal mining regions of north Bohemia and north Moravia - close to 20 percent - whereas the lowest rate was in Prague and central Bohemia -around 4 percent. According to economic experts the two digit unemployment figure reflects the ripple effect of weak exports and a slowing economy in neighbouring Germany, the Czech Republic's largest trading partner. Some attribute it to an over-generous social welfare system.
The defense ministers of the Visegrad group states - the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia - have held consultations on the possibility of a joint air defense system, close cooperation in modernizing their aging Mi-24 military helicopters and the present security situation in connection with the Iraqi crisis. Financial restrictions have led the former eastern bloc states to closer cooperation as they strive to meet their country's defense needs and fulfill their obligations as NATO members. Slovakia, who is not yet a NATO member, was invited to join the alliance at its Prague summit last November.
Tuesday is expected to be partly cloudy with scattered snow showers and day temperatures between minus 3 and plus 1 degrees Celsius. Nighttime lows may drop to minus 10 degrees.
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